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Cowboys expect right tackle Doug Free to retire

The Dallas Cowboys have lost their second starting offensive lineman in as many days. The first, guard Ronald Leary, departed for Denver in free agency; the latter is handing in his papers.

Starting right tackle Doug Free is expected to announce his retirement, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday.

Free, 33, has played in and started 107 of a possible 112 regular-season games since 2010. The tackle was in the final year of a restructured three-year deal in Dallas and was due $7.5 million.

Rumors that Free could retire first sprouted up at the combine when executive vice president Stephen Jones suggested La'el Collins could play right tackle "if Doug were to retire or not be around." Coach Jason Garrett then denied that Dallas expected Free to retire, saying, "He, like all the players, they wanted to get away for a little while then get themselves recharged and come back to work. I don't anticipate anything other than that."

A 10-year veteran, Free was the longest-tenured member of Dallas' dominant offensive line in 2016, one that paved the way for running back Ezekiel Elliott's breakout rookie campaign and earned comparisons to historic Cowboys fronts of decades past.

Now, due to lingering injury issues, Free will not be a part of any Cowboys' Super Bowl run in 2017 and beyond, and his absence will be felt along a line that also lost its starting guard in Leary.

As the Cowboys deal with the 24/7 drama that has already surrounded Tony Romo's impending departure, they'll have to address a unit that was once one of their strengths. Dallas could move Collins to right tackle or can also use Chaz Green or Emmett Cleary in that capacity, but it's fair to wonder if, without its vet, Dallas' O-line will replicate last year's success.

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